Pat Patek makes Carmel French Toast

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Pat Patek


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Caramel French Toast


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Kathy Zweidinger, left, and Pat Patek met through Circle of Friends and contributed recipes to the groups cookbook.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Pat Patek makes Carmel French Toast

We make lunch with a little help from our (Circle of) Friends

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print story Published: 11/17/2009 11:11 AM | Updated: 11/18/2009 9:49 AM

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Entertaining 16 to 24 people at lunch is miles easier with teamwork; just ask Kathy Zweidinger and Pat Patek.

The two retirees are members of Circle of Friends, a social and service organization that started in 1972 as the Palatine Welcome Wagon. More than 150 members from 18 Northwest suburbs participate in a host of activities each month, from golf and bowling to day trips, cards and fundraisers.

Kathy and Pat signed on for the Casual Cooking activity which meets October through May for a luncheon feast at a member's home. The hostess provides the table setting and beverages; three other members draw up the menu and bring the food.

As the name implies, the food and dress code are relaxed.

"We did not want a gourmet club so nobody would feel intimidated," says Kathy, a Hoffman Estates resident who joined the group five years ago after she retired as a flight attendant for United Airlines.

Everyone pays between $7 to $12 to cover costs, but the meal is worth loads more when you account for the food and the friendships kindled around the table.

"The gals are incredibly friendly and enthusiastic," says Pat, a South Barrington resident and former word processor.

"If you can't make good friends, there's something wrong with you," she says.

The diverse group includes 30-somethings to 80-somethings from a variety of cultural backgrounds and life experiences.

"It's a great way to mingle," says Kathy. "Each month you sit down with someone different."

This past October the cooks prepared a Weight Watchers luncheon with recipes from that popular diet plan.

"We were getting ready to indulge ourselves during the holidays," says Kathy.

In May the group always collaborates on a salad lunch. The hostess provides greens, dressings and beverages and everyone else brings a cup of ingredients like beets, jicama, sunflower seeds, mango and cheeses.

At another well-loved luncheon the Swedish hostess organized a smorgasbord with apple cardamom salad, Swedish meatballs and brown beans, herring with onion marinade and cranberries and pickled cucumbers.

In December Pat and three other members will handle the Christmas party for 50 to 60 people in a nearby community center. They are planning a buffet of ham, potato casserole, vegetables and salad.

All the cooks bring copies of their recipes to share, and a bunch of their favorites have been compiled in a cookbook called "A Wagonload of Goodies." Proceeds from sales of the book, at $15, help fund a local food pantry and the Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County.

Today we have several of those recipes here. Pat shares Caramel French Toast with pecans, a winner for bridal showers, she says.

Kathy combines ricotta, bacon, Cheddar and other goodies under puff pastry for Sky-High Brunch Bake, and another member, Lorre LaPossa of Palatine, shares crab-filled empanadas wrapped in wonton skins.

At, you'll also find an unusual Caribbean-flavored salad with black beans, allspice and pineapple.

"Everyone puts their best foot forward," for the luncheons, says Pat, "... you don't have to do the whole thing so you can concentrate on your dish."

And making friends.

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